By: Vernon Clark
The message is plain and to the point: Put it down. As about 200 community activists filled a City Hall reception room yesterday afternoon, they were urged to make sure that message is echoed through the streets of Philadelphia this summer.
“This is a direct appeal to the people on the street to put it down,” said Bilal Qayyum, cofounder of Men United for a Better Philadelphia. “It,” of course, is firearms, and the message was part of the latest campaign to put down violence throughout the city. “We are trying to raise the conscience level, particularly in areas of the city where there have been a lot of shootings, and say to young men: ‘Put it down. Give up your guns,’ ” Qayyum said.
More than 200 homicides were recorded in Philadelphia during the first six months of the year, and the city is on pace to tally more murders than the 406 recorded in 2006. The effort, organized by a coalition of activist groups and city government, calls on community organizations, clergy and nontraditional groups, including entertainment promoters and motorcycle clubs, to lend their voices to spread the word.
“I can remember saying, we need more help here. We need more nontraditional people, people that you wouldn’t think of being at City Hall,” said Mayor Street. “Sixty percent of people who are dying of violence are African American males 16 to 44,” Street said. “We know what’s going on out here. We have to get a message to them. The people in this room can carry this message in a way that is very different from the way I or the police commissioner can.”
Qayyum said one such nontraditional group, Bikers Against Violence, would ride through areas where violence has occurred to draw attention to the problem and the effort to stop it. One effort would be the distribution of about 25,000 T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan and an image of a handgun pushing through a bright red heart, and an equal number of black rubber wristbands with the words: “Put It Down.” Another effort calls for asking young people to sign a “peace pledge” committing them to being “a nonviolent and peaceable person,” to avoid “hateful words,” and “to challenge violence in all its forms . . . whether at home, at school or in the community.”
Another nontraditional group that has joined the effort is Party Promoters Coalition, whose members – rappers, DJs and hip-hop artists – host parties and entertainment events. Party Promoters has pledged to devote at least five minutes at each party or other event to discuss the “Put It Down” campaign and other antiviolence efforts. Street said he was hopeful about the campaign. “I truly believe this is going to have a positive impact on thousands and thousands of young people in this city,” the mayor said.
Qayyum said that during the street-gang wars of the 1970s, when about 80 youths were killed per year, grass-roots groups, police and city government banded together to eliminate the problem. He said he thinks this effort will have similar results.